The late Carol Cope was well-known at the University of Nebraska at Kearney throughout a half-century of giving. Her final gift — $11.6 million in endowed funds — will ensure that students and faculty know her name for decades to come.
The gift from Cope, who died last year on her 103rd birthday, came as part of a $12.6 million total gift to the University of Nebraska Foundation. It was the biggest single donation the Kearney campus has ever received.
The money will establish endowed scholarships, professorships and funding support for athletic expansions and special projects at the Kearney campus. The remaining $1 million will go to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for endowed faculty professorships.
“If you think about the number of lives this is going to touch, their generosity will literally provide dozens of scholarships each year on the Kearney campus,” said Brian Hastings, president and CEO of the University of Nebraska Foundation.
The gift to the Kearney campus includes:
• $4.6 million endowment for high-priority projects;
• $3 million to complete the Copes' commitment to Ron and Carol Cope Stadium;
• $2.8 million endowment for academic and athletic scholarships;
• $1 million endowment for faculty professorships;
• $265,000 endowment for program and maintenance support of the Frank House museum.
Ron and Carol Cope, longtime residents of Kearney, operated Claussens Shoes and Famous Shoe Stores for 30 years. Their fortune came from investments in farmland and early Berkshire Hathaway stock.
They gave generously around Kearney in life and in death. It would take half a day to see all the places in Kearney the Copes supported, said Pete Kotsiopulos, former Kearney mayor and currently UNK's vice president for university affairs and campus director of development for the NU Foundation.
But the couple's imprint is especially large at the university Carol Cope loved. Her estate gift more than tripled UNK's previous biggest single gift, Kotsiopulos said, and the mix of athletic, academic and infrastructure funds reflects her own varied interests.
“I think she was just a lifelong learner, whether it be the fine arts, sports, performing arts or music,” Kotsiopulos said. “She was quite a lady.”
The gift announcement was timed to coincide with Carol Cope Day today. The college will retire her honorary jersey during halftime at the football home opener.
Her gift will make a lasting impression on athletics, where the $1 million endowment for athlete scholarships will help its teams better compete for talent in a new conference, said athletics director Paul Plinske.
“The single most important variable that coaches have identified is that we're lacking in scholarships for all our programs,” Plinske said. “We hope we can build off the Cope gift to find other opportunities and the kind of long-term giving that will impact thousands of athletes.”